Disclaimer: All views expressed on this blog are my own based on my own experiences and do not represent of any entity with which I have been, are now or will be affiliated

March 05, 2022
Batangas, Philippines

Travel Dates in Buscalan – Feb 25-27

Buscalan is a small barangay located near Tinglayan in the province of Kalinga – located in the far north of the Philippines. It is a small village that can only be reached by hiking narrow trails. It is also home to tattooed women and various indigenous groups like the Butbut tribe. In the past, the tribesmen used head hunting to protect their villages from foreign or local invasion.

If there is one person to best describe the richness of culture in Buscalan, it is none other than the great Whang-Od (Fang-Od), the oldest and last surviving hand-tap tattoo artist. Many foreign and local tourists travel to Kalinga to get their tattoos from her.

But, more than Wang-od, there were so many captivating sceneries, memories, people, culture, fresh vegetables and I will never forget, the aromatic Kalinga beans in Buscalan. You will really leave Buscalan high – high in memories. 🙂

Getting Around Buscalan

I booked a tour with Jessiclimb – online portal to book for hiking, beach trips & nature adventures. This is also owned by my fellow hikers Jess and her husband, Eban. It’s really a very smooth and great experience to be with people you trust in the mountains or a trip.

It was not easy to reach Buscalan, I have endured a grueling 13 hour trip by land, endless zigzag roads and a not easy hike for 30 minutes before I reached the village. But was it worth it? Definitely

Restrictions

Buscalan is accepting leisure travelers provided that they follow the standard health protocol. Only vaccination card to be presented in checkpoints. There were 2 checkpoints going to Buscalan where you register your name and present your vaccination card and IDs.

Upon reaching to Buscalan, before the hike, you have to register again and present vaccination card.

Expenses

My budget for this trip was Php7,000-00. The event fee for Jessiclimb was Php3,999.00. Inclusion of: homestay, rented van, registration fee, environmental fee, hosted meal (bfast, lunch, dinner), the unlimited coffee and Jessiclimb sticker. The tattoos are excluded in the package, the tattoo starts at Php500 up and Whang-Od’s signature tattoo cost Php150

Language

Butbut is the native language, however, Tagalog is also widely spoken. English can be understood and spoken too.

Climate

Buscalan is a bit warm and dry in February. It gets colder at night and early in the morning 17 degree Celsius so don’t forget to bring jacket.

Buscalan Coffee

It is also known that the locals serve unlimited coffee in Buscalan. I think I always had 5-6 cups in a day. You can never be caffeine overload in Buscalan! haha Kalinga coffee is purely made from Robusta beans. Their coffee is cooked not brewed and served daily to their families and tourists. It has woody aroma perfect to brighten my day. Some locals used brown sugar to complement the strong taste of the coffee. But, I prefer no sugar as I can taste the authentic Kalinga beans. One of the reasons why I love Buscalan was because of their coffee while you enjoy the mountain view.

Apo Whang-Od and Kalinga Tattoos

Lars Krutak, a tattoo anthropologist featured Whang-Od in a documentary that aired on the Discovery Channel in 2009, and since then there were a flock of tourists wanting to get a glimpse of the richness of culture in Kalinga.

Whang-Od started tattooing at the age of 15. She is now 105 years old and she already passed on her legacy, she chose her protege to be women as well. Since she doesn’t have kids, she took under her wings her 2 nieces: Grace and Elyang.

In the past, women in their tribe get tattoos for aesthetic reasons while men earn them when they protect the village. Whang-Od has different signature tattoos but now, she only uses 3 dots which represent herself, Grace and Elyang.

The art of tattooing in Kalinga with tribal designs is known as “batok” which was believed to have been practiced for more than thousand years. The tattoo was done in pomelo thorn that is attached to a bamboo stick and then tapped into your skin. Charcoal and water are mixed and used as ink that is placed in a coconut shell.

Day 1 February 25

The call time was at 8:30pm on February 25 in Mcdonald’s Alabang. I just had my hair done but did not finish since it will take another 2 hours in the salon and will be late for the meet up. I met up with Jess and the rest of the joiners of the adventure. The only people I know were Jess and her husband. The rest I have to get to know more.

As far as I can remember, we stopped twice for the driver to rest, the rest I couldn’t remember because I was already asleep. haha

Day 2 February 26

At 5:50am we reached Dianarra View deck, located in Nueva Viscaya – Ifugao, Mountain Province offers a breathtaking view of Banaue rice terraces landscape (it’s considered the 8th wonder of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site in Ifugao). It consisted of thousands of staircase-like rice paddies. The Ifugaos said that their ancestors built these terraces only by hand thousand years ago. Gosh, it’s unparalleled beauty during sunrise! It’s indeed postcard from heaven! Such a magical experience. The photos cannot justify the real experience and view.

At 6:30am we left the view deck and head over to Mt. Polis to have our breakfast. I ordered beef bulalo (beef shank soup) and it didn’t taste good for a price of Php150. I don’t expect too much from it though, I just wanted to reach our destination and fill my stomach. So whatever was the left over I fed the dogs there, they were all so fluffy – probably because of the weather.

After 2 checkpoints, we reached Buscalan jump-off and registered. We started our trek around 11am and reached the village and homestay around 12:00 noon. It was really a difficult trek for me, I did not wear my hiking shoes for 2 years and it rubbed against the back of my feet and had blisters so it was really painful during the ascent. Although, even without injury it’s really difficult. I haven’t had any decent workout since July 2021 except walking my dog. haha

When we reached our homestay, we rested, ate lunch and freshen up.

During ascent to reach Buscalan village


Internet Connection

What I love about Buscalan is that it gave me an experience of a lifetime, there was no Internet connection which gives you a zen-like experience, it helps reboot your brain. I was more focused on engaging with the people around me, enjoying the picturesque view, smelling the aromatic Kalinga beans – just basically enjoying life. Although, the locals mentioned that there was a wifi spot somewhere in the area, I wanted to experience unplugging from technology. Because of this experience, I was inspired to let go of all my social media networks. I only use my WhatsApp, FB messenger and my blog to connect to people since February.

Homestay

The houses in Buscalan are simple and they are very close to each other. Our homestay was well lit, have electricity, water and unlimited coffee. The locals are really friendly, they will make you feel at home. Our organizer can also cook for us. We all shared the same room with 3 separate partitions – the mattresses, pillows and blankets were all provided. The CR is connected just outside the homestay. They have faucet, water pail and dipper to use for taking a bath. It’s clean and I like the strong flow of water and I am used to showering cold (it can get really cold at night) so I didn’t find this as an issue.


Getting a Tattoo

Before I went to Buscalan, I have one thing in my mind, I will never put an ink on my skin. I thought it was really painful and I just did not want to leave any marks on my skin. However, as the trip got closer, I thought maybe I could get one but only one dot and I found out Whang-Od’s signature tattoo was 3 dots haha. I was so fickle minded when thinking about it before. But, I was already in Buscalan, endured the crazy zigzag trip and the hike with my feet injured. I decided that I can’t leave Buscalan without getting a piece of history in my body.

At first, I had their traditional tribal sun and moon tattoo done by the locals in the area which meant life, when they did the hand-tapping I was surprised that it didn’t hurt that much, Brazilian wax was much painful was how I described it! haha When I saw the finished product, I thought I needed more, I had doubts that this was the experience I was looking for. So, I went to Elyang one of Whang-Od’s protege. I asked her to look at it and she had revisions. Thank God, I saw her. And when she did my tattoo it was so fucking painful I was about to cry. This was the legit experience I was looking for. Not that I am a masochist, it was just right that it’s more painful than Brazilian wax! hahaha I asked Elyang to put a Serpent Eagle which meant heavenly guidance, protection and courage just below my sun and moon. It cost me Php2,000 for both tattoos.

Elyang doing my serpent eagle tattoo

I was so happy with my tattoos – from only wanting one dot to multiple dots inked on my skin. I had proper after care – washed then dry and put antibacterial cream. I had burning sensation and I also experience soreness after getting a tattoo but it was just normal.

I was happy after getting the tattoo and then I was so high in the evening. I have never been that happy laughing my heart out. It was my first trip this year and by far the best adventure of my life. I was Niskie in the sky of Buscalan hahaha!

Day 3

I slept well and woke up in the smell of the oaky aroma of Buscalan’s coffee. We decided to visit the rice fields before the sunrise. It was cold during the morning and it was a pleasurable view while you hear the sound of the stream. I truly enjoyed the rice fields and mountains.

Right after, we had breakfast and went to Whang-Od. There was a long queue and we needed to be back home by Monday so we just decided to get a picture taken with her. I was so glad that we had that moment. She’s a legend. After that, I went to Grace (her protege) to get my last ink, Whang-Od’s signature tattoo, the 3 dots. I have to be honest, it was the most painful out of all my tattoos.

We began our descent at 11am. The descent was so much easier than the ascent because I was using my sandals and not my shoes. Haha.

Going back to Alabang, we came across 2 checkpoints again where they checked your bags so don’t try to bring any weeds along the way.

We had dinner at Kamayan sa Kainyungan in Nueva Viscaya. It’s situated along the road going back to Alabang so most of the traveller’s dine there. They cooked their food in traditional Ilocano style. I actually really liked the grilled catfish and the mixed vegetables (pinakbet). It cost Php200-00. The catfish was fresh and my first time eating this. I was always curious when I was kid when I watched the cartoon Tom Sawyer ate catfish. I also like that the place has separate stations for condiments where you can cut your own calamansi, tomatoes or chilis. I even wanted to take home the knife as it was really cute and sharp. Haha

I arrived in Alabang at 1 in the morning but had to stay out until 5 in the morning in Mcdonald’s so I won’t wake up my sissy in law as we were both staying in a studio unit, all noises can wake someone.

My trip to Buscalan was an unforgettable experience. It was one hell of an adventure. I’m glad I chose the road less traveled and brought home a lot of Buscalan memories, an experience worth sharing. What happens in Buscalan stays in my blog. 🙂

This is Grace while tattooing my 3 dots

Love,
Maria, sometimes Niskie